Election Change On SC Ballot

Nov 9, 2012

Credit Michael Tomsic / WFAE-FM

Unbeknownst to many South Carolina voters, they're being asked to change the state's constitution next week, and the outcome will affect future elections. 

In South Carolina, the governor and lieutenant governor are elected separately. About half of states do it that way – including North Carolina.  Next week, South Carolina voters will have a chance to change that and put their top two executives on the same ticket.  

But the constitutional amendment on South Carolina's ballot Tuesday has garnered little attention.

"It seems to be pretty much off the radar of everybody, which is mostly a sign that's it's uncontroversial," says University of South Carolina political scientist Mark Tompkins.

The change may not be controversial, but the reason it's on the ballot is a decade of controversy over unpopular lieutenant governors in the state. Most recently, Ken Ard stepped down after being indicted for campaign finance fraud.  

The Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina only has two jobs – to run the State Office on Aging and to preside over the Senate.  If voters approve the constitutional amendment on Tuesday, Tompkins says the lieutenant governor will become just that – a "lieutenant" of the governor, with no official duties or seat in the Senate.

"That's going to diminish the office in a lot of ways," says Tompkins. "On the other hand, it means the governor speaks for the executive branch, the legislature is an independent branch and the courts are an independent branch."

The change would be an advantage to state senators looking to set their own agenda without meddling from the executive branch. 

The advantage to the governor is the ability to choose a running mate who appeals to voters of a different part of the state or political mindset. Governor Nikki Haley won't get that, though, since her foes in the state legislature made sure the amendment doesn't take effect until 2018, when her two-term limit is over.